The Carpathian Mountain area of Southeastern Poland, once known as the Lemko Region, is an area that is today sparsely populated, mostly by Poles, with a few exceptions devoid of much of its previous character, and deprived of most of the remnants of its historical past.1 However, before World War II it was home to a colorful Eastern Slavic ethnic group known a s Lemkos, who are considered Ukrainians by most scholars but who have a distinct language, culture and history. Who are the Lemkos, and why do most of them no longer live in their Carpathian homeland?
The Lemkos of Poland are also known by the regional name "Rusyns" and sometimes among themselves as "Rusnaks." In the last years of World War II, much destruction had been wrought throughout this region and the Lemko population was forcibly removed. Living today almost entirely in diaspora, even within Poland, the Lemkos have shown a remarkable attachment to their native culture though their settlements are dispersed and their organizations are few. The situation of the Lemkos today provides a valuable opportunity to examine how an ethnic group’s culture changes and is preserved in the difficult situation of existing almost entirely in small dispersed settlements outside the original homeland.
The purpose of this paper is: to provide a description of the Lemko Region and a brief but thorough account of the history of the Lemko people so that the events critical to their development will be understood; to examine the facets of the Lemkos’ traditional material and spiritual culture in the early part of the 20th century; and to investigate how that culture has been preserved and has changed in the years following the Lemkos’ deportation from their homeland.